After three episodes that have focused largely on the battles between Florrick/Agos and
Lockhart/Gardner L.G., it was rather nice that "The Next Month" wasn't overly concerned with the War Between the Firms. Sure, it was there, as Will attempted to woo Natalie (America Ferrera, returning to the show for the first time since Season 2) and her deep-pocketed New York City lobbying firm away from Florrick/Agos before they even had a chance to meet, but it wasn't what propelled the episode forward. Instead, "The Next Month" was a procedural-centric hour in typical Good Wife fashion: It allowed the ripples of the larger conflict to be felt without letting consume the show's characters.
Which is, really, what the show should be aiming for as its new status quo begins to settle in. Not every episode can be directly and aggressively focused on F/A and L.G. being at one another's throats in a mad competition for clients, or undermining one another in court. We need to see keep seeing F/A try to scrape themselves together—do they even have a conference room in that space?—and we need to see Will's attempts to grow the firm, which does involve more than just crushing an ex-partner and former fourth-year associates.
So we ended up with Natalie returning to Chicago, looking for assistance in a case involving an undocumented immigrant. That set off quite a chain of events, including Natalie being exposed to the convoluted nature of the United States' immigration bureaucracy, Robyn proving her worth to the new firm, and, perhaps most entertainingly, Eli being smitten with Natalie all over again and dealing with the problems his crush caused for him.
The case itself consisted mostly of Alicia and Cary running from courtroom to courtroom in an effort to prevent Natalie's Tomas Ruiz from arriving in Mexico, where he would've likely been killed by the cartel leader he was about to testify against in exchange for a S(nitch) Visa, which he needed because he was wrongfully deported by the U.S. government, which actually intended to deport another Tomas Ruiz, but one with a different middle name (phew—got all that?). Of course, since the client Tomas Ruiz didn't have identification or a Social Security Number, there was no way to verify that he was the incorrect Tomas Ruiz.
It was all very Kafkaesque, down to the shifting strategies that Alicia and Cary deployed, from almost getting the AUSA to declare Ruiz a snitch to claiming that as a snitch, Tomas was a prosecuted social group within Mexico, even though, yes, he hadn't had the opportunity to actually be a snitch. Even finding the Tomas Ruiz who should've been deported didn't really help, because turning a bus around for a guy who would've been deported later rather than sooner was just a waste of taxpayer money, even though he was this close to having a visa and on and on and on and on in this ouroboric insanity.
Despite the runaround, I never cared all that much about the case itself. It was entertaining, yes, but I just never felt all that invested in it, and since we never saw F/A meet with Natalie's boss, did the firm even benefit from it? What I did care about was how this case spurred Robyn to do her damnedest to make sure that she wasn't fired.
I've generally liked Robyn from the start, but she's mostly gotten lucky or had Kalinda there to help out. After having a near-breakdown in front of Kalinda—Jess Weixler gives great sadface—she channeled her former mentor and went to work on winning this case for the firm, a turn that included speaking enigmatically and then walking out to do her thing.
Robyn isn't as smooth of a liar as Kalinda can be—I wouldn't have bought her bond-skipper story—but she redeemed herself by posing as the mother of Other Ruiz's child in front of his current girlfriend in a very fine performance. I'm not sure what to make of the faked bullet calling card, however. It's a very desperate move, though it was also rendered moot. At least her gambit with the Mexican consulate was exactly what Kalinda would've done, even if Kalinda probably would've done it much sooner. But it did help her keep her job, and so she'll be sticking around, despite the firm's lack of investigating.
So if Robyn was trying to be someone else due to Natalie's case, Eli was becoming someone he typically isn't because Natalie was in town. It's been a long while since Alan Cumming has had the opportunity to do a lot of comedy on The Good Wife—remember when he was pratfalling every other episode or reacting to videos of school kids vomiting? Good times!—so watching him stammer, be bashful, and use the word "stomachache" was just far too much fun. As Eli himself noted, this isn't who he is, but he made real efforts to make sure Natalie knew he wanted something to happen between them so as not to miss out on the opportunity again.
Of course, that effort included having Peter attend a previously backed out of speech about redistricting in front of a minority voters group after seeing that Natalie was dismayed about the cancellation. I'm not entirely clear on why Marilyn cared about this before seeing Eli talk to and recognize Natalie, but whatever, I'm not entirely clear on Marilyn anyway. (I really hope she has this baby soon.) Marilyn's concerns did lead to Eli and Peter having a talk about his motivations, and it seemed a bit more intense than it should have been to me. Peter's "I need to know that I can trust you" seemed like a very bold step considering how much Eli has done for Peter. One small transgression, and suddenly he's being called out like this? I get Peter wanting to make his authority clear, but theirs never seemed like a relationship that required that sort of tone.
I can't recall how I felt about Cumming and Ferrera's chemistry back in Season 2—I barely remember the specifics of Season 2, it feels so long ago—but I really responded to it here, which was important, considering that I don't remember it much from Season 2 and that the episode needed us to feel really invested in this story for it work after so much time. So small touches like Eli dashing down stairs, the bag of dried apricots, or Eli tossing out a delicious-looking sandwich for no apparent reason sold the awkwardness between the characters and helped to establish give-and-take between the two actors.
Sadly, Eli and Natalie weren't the only ones in a relationship who were struggling to find their footing in this episode, as Will and Isabel are still a thing, much to the annoyance of David "Looks like a jack-o-lantern" Lee. While I sort of enjoyed Isabel making everyone uncomfortable at the office, I don't think I've spent enough time with her and Will to see this as more than just a fun fling. That perception makes her concern about Alicia seem out-of-left-field, but then this is also the woman who may or may not have been joking about wanting to have Will's baby, so who the hell knows.
– Josh Charles directed this episode, and it felt very much like a normal episode of The Good Wife. The TV director's role is always a tricky one since you're often there to keep the show visually consistent than put in your own little flourishes, and Charles does that, but nothing in particular stood out to beyond keeping the show's style in tact. Did you pick up on anything noteworthy?
– "You taste like chocolate." "That's because I'm made of chocolate." ... ... ... ... Ugh.
– "But lying to you gave me a stomachache." So cute.
– "Your rules are right out of 1984. The book. Not the year." Cary, that was very cute, and I love you for it, but leave the smack talk to Alicia.
– Will, here's my advice for helping you with your re-branding efforts: Fire Howard.
– This episode was originally titled "The Next Month" and then it was "ICE, ICE Baby" and then it was back to "The Next Month." And this leads to a random question for you all: Have you picked up on the fact that so far, all of the Season 5 episode titles have been three words long? Should we read anything into this? Are all the answers we need located in Season 3?!
What'd you think of "The Next Month"?
AIRED ON 1/11/2015
Season 6 : Episode 12